The 6 Healthiest Meats

Does healthy, green living mean you have to give up meat? Not exactly.

January 28, 2013

If you want to lose weight and live a greener—and longer—life, the first step you should take is eliminating meat, right? Yes…and no. It’s true that excessive consumption of red meat has been linked to higher rates of premature death, heart problems, and certain forms of cancer. And raising any form of livestock in the polluting, antibiotic- and hormone-driven factory farms so favored by big agribusinesses leads to unnecessary water and air pollution, and may be driving the problem of antibiotic-resistant diseases in humans.

But that doesn’t mean you should chuck it all and go veg for the rest of your life. Meat, particularly healthy red meat, is rich in muscle-building amino acids, and the fatty acids found in all forms of meat help build your brain, which is 60 percent fat. It’s all about finding the healthiest meats for both you and the planet. These six healthy alternatives are better for your body than the mass-produced, factory-farmed fare that is high not just in antibiotics and hormones, but also omega-6 fatty acids (thanks to the animals’ steady diet of corn and soy), which have been linked to Parkinson’s disease and other forms of cognitive decline.


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Grass-Fed Beef

Powerhouse nutrient: Vitamin E. Levels of this antioxidant, which wards off free radical damage linked to aging and keeps your immune system healthy, are three times higher in grass-fed beef than in conventional grain-fed beef.

More healthy bonuses: In addition to being slightly higher in protein, grass-fed beef is leaner. It contains half as much total fat as grain-fed beef and two-thirds less saturated fat than conventional grain-fed beef.

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Canned Fish

Powerhouse nutrient: Omega-3 fatty acids. There are 1,125 milligrams in 3 ounces of canned salmon and 1,362 milligrams in a can of sardines.

More healthy bonuses: It isn’t easy to find sustainably harvested fish that isn’t overloaded with industrial contaminants, like mercury and PCBs—and that won’t cost you an arm and a leg. That’s why canned fish is such an attractive option. Canned omega-3-rich salmon almost always comes from wild Alaskan salmon, some of the cleanest, most well-managed fish on the planet. Likewise, sardines are über-healthy and, because they’re at the bottom of the food chain, haven’t lived long enough to build up unhealthy toxic materials.

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Photo: Mitch Mandel/Rodale


Wild Boar

Powerhouse nutrient: B vitamins. A serving of wild boar provides you with more than 70 percent of your recommended amounts of niacin, a B vitamin that lowers bad cholesterol and boosts the good, and thiamin and B6, two vitamins that boost your energy levels. It’s also rich in zinc, which fortifies your immune system.

More healthy bonuses: Wild boars are actually invasive and proving destructive for farmers in Texas and California, where they prey on small livestock and destroy crops. Feral pigs have now spread to 45 more states, where they’re destroying forests and competing with native turkeys and quail for food. So you’re doing the American ecosystem a favor by eating your way to a solution to the problem.

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Photo: Mitch Mandel/Rodale


Organic Chicken

Powerhouse nutrient: Protein. Chicken contains some of the highest levels of protein of any meat. Protein protects against obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, and it can dull hunger and prevent you from overeating.

More healthy bonuses: Organic chicken is less likely than the conventionally raised stuff to harbor antibiotic-resistant bacteria, according to Consumer Reports. Conventionally raised, factory-farmed chicken has also tested positive for low levels of arsenic, a carcinogen added to chicken feed to speed growth, as well as caffeine, antidepressants, and painkillers, all fed to chickens to keep them alert so they eat more and grow faster.

Learn More: Your Guide to Backyard Chickens

Photo: Mitch Mandel/Rodale


Organic Turkey

Powerhouse nutrient: Selenium. In addition to being a great protein source, a 3-ounce serving of turkey gives you nearly a day’s worth of selenium, a mineral that boosts your immune system’s ability to fight off infections. Researchers have also found evidence that selenium binds with the toxic heavy metals mercury and arsenic, making them less harmful to your body, and it activates substances that protect against cataracts and muscle damage to the heart.

More healthy bonuses: As with chicken, studies have shown that organic turkeys are less likely to harbor drug-resistant bacteria than conventional factory-farmed birds, which are routinely fed antibiotics to ward off the diseases that breed in cramped farms. According to the most recent USDA agricultural census, the average turkey farm in the United States houses around 6,200 birds.

Video: How to Carve a Turkey

Photo: Mitch Mandel/Rodale



Powerhouse nutrient: Protein. Yes, eating insects is gross, but bear with us: A new study in the journal PLoS One by researchers from Norway has found that these wriggly worms provide just as much protein as milk, chicken, pork, and beef with a fraction of the greenhouse-gas pollution, helping the world meet its growing demand for animal protein without adding to global warming.

More healthy bonuses: Livestock production currently uses 70 percent of the world’s agricultural land and accounts for roughly 15 percent of the world’s greenhouse-gas emissions. According to the Norwegian study, producing the same amount of protein from mealworms uses 90 percent less land than doing so from cattle, 70 percent less than pork, and 60 percent less than chicken. That means that more land can be reforested to sequester carbon dioxide (cattle production is a leading cause of deforestation in developing countries) or used in other ways, such as organic vegetable farming, that keep carbon dioxide in the soil.

Keep Reading: 8 Bugs You're Already Eating

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